When Can Kids Start Carrying their Own Backpack When Hiking?

Hiking with kids means that you have a lot of extra things to carry (including carrying your kids sometimes!). You are probably eager for your kids to start carrying their own backpack on hikes. While there is always someone with a story about how their three-year old carried their own pack on a 5 mile hike, most kids are NOT like that.  You WILL be carrying your kid’s backpack hiking for a long time.


When do kids start carrying their own backpack? The quick answer:

Kids as young as two or three years old can carry their own backpack hiking. However, it’s unlikely that very young kids will carry their own pack for an entire hike. It isn’t until kids are around 5 or 6 years old that they’ll carry a backpack for more than few miles hiking – but even then they might complain and beg for you to carry it for them. By eight-years old, kids can carry their own pack so long as you keep it light.


Give Kids their Own Pack As Young As Possible

As soon as you stop carrying your kids in a carrier or pushing them in a stroller on hikes, give them their own backpack (like one of these).  Two and three year olds love to have their own pack.  It makes them feel special and more motivated to hike.   Starting them off young also trains them to be better hikers later: the sooner you give them their own pack, the sooner they will carry a pack for the entire hike.

But let’s be realistic here.  A two year old will not carry a backpack for a long hike.  Pack or no pack, most two year olds won’t even complete a hike on their own.

Also Read: How far can kids hike?


You Will End Up Carrying Your Young Kid’s Backpack

Kids are finicky when it comes to hiking.  When my daughter was little, there were some rare “miracle” days where she’d hike for miles with her pack on. And then there were days where she’d start complaining the minute we hit the trail and beg me to carry her pack for her.

It sucks to have to carry your kids backpack in your hands while hiking.  It means you can’t use your hiking poles properly.  You get off balance from the bulky pack swinging in your hands.

Because it’s inevitable you’ll carry your kid’s backpack hiking, I recommend:

  • Choose a backpack for your kid which you can easily strap to the outside of your pack. Carabiners are good for this.
  • Or leave some extra room in your backpack. Unpack your kid’s pack and put it into your pack.


The lighter you keep your kid’s backpack, the more likely it is that they will carry it for the entire hike.

As a general rule, young kids should carry a maximum of 5% of their bodyweight. Older kids can carry 10-15% of their bodyweight.

Consider that a typical 4 year old only weighs about 36lbs, which means they should carry no more than 1.8lbs. It only takes a small kids water bottle and some snacks to reach this weight limit.

It’s very easy to over pack your kid’s backpack when hiking.  At this young of an age, the main goal shouldn’t be to “train” them to carry weight hiking.  The goal should be to make hiking an enjoyable experience – and it won’t be if the pack is too heavy.  So put the pack on a scale before you leave to get a sense of how heavy it really is.

Read: How much weight can kids carry hiking?


Don’t Cave In!

I admittedly carried my daughter’s backpack on hikes for a very long time.  Too long.

Here’s what would happen: She would get tired on a difficult section of a backpacking trip and start whining.  I’d feel bad (or get annoyed from the whining) and start carrying her pack for her.  This happened even when she was eight years old and definitely capable of carrying her own backpack.

It had to stop.

So I stopped giving in.


Set Some Rules about Carrying the Backpack

If you are certain your kid is physically capable of carrying the backpack (weigh it!) and your kid has some experience hiking, make a rule that they have to carry their own pack.

With my kid, the rule was that she had to carry a few specific items in her pack (including some basic safety items in case of emergency). She could also add whatever toys or fun items she wanted to the pack – but the rule was she had to carry the pack the entire way.

It turns out that letting her add a few fun items to the pack helped motivate her to carry it for the entire hike.

And, once she figured out that I wasn’t going to cave in and carry her pack anymore, she stopped whining about it.


Carrying their own backpack is a good lesson in resilience.

When your kids start whining that their pack is too heavy or they are tired, it is easy to give in and carry the pack for them.  But, ultimately, your kids will feel a bigger sense of accomplishment if they carry the pack for the entire hike.


Let’s hear from you – when did your kids start carrying their own packs hiking?

Image credit: “LE Trailblazers” (CC BY 2.0) by vastateparksstaff

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